Office Layout Effects Office Culture

Right after Lauren and I left for California, HelloWallet moved into brand new offices on the West End of Washington, DC.  So, when I came back this week, it was my first time seeing everyone in the new space.  It really underlined for me how much the layout of your offices drastically effects your culture.

Our old offices had many different walled off sections or alcoves.  There was engineering, marketing/community, and business teams all hole’d off in their own parts of the office.   The people who you sat near are the people who you saw everyday.  They’re the ones that you socialized with and the ones that you became close to.

You could easily go weeks without seeing someone on one of the other teams.  Once, our director of engineering went on vacation for a week and I had no idea.  I just knew that I hadn’t made my way over into his corner of the engineering section in a while and I just hadn’t seen him.

It was bad.  Especially in an office of only 38 people, you want everyone to have the space they need to get their work done and be productive but you also want people to be bumping into one another.   There needs to be that cross pollination of ideas between people, teams, and departments.  Everyone should know what’s going on so we can all going about kicking ass to the best extent possible.

So I come back to DC this week and go into our new office, which is just one big open-pit with office along the exterior, and it’s a completely different vibe.  It really feels like a startup family.   Everyone sees everyone.   Everyone inevitably is going to walk past your desk throughout the course of the day.    Nothing can really happen in the office without you hearing about it or seeing it.

The executives who have offices only use them when they have meetings or calls.   Otherwise, they’re out at a big communal table in the pit with everyone else, which makes them feel even more accessible and avoids the ivory tower perception (which we didn’t have but is good to avoid).

Granted these large open pit-style offices presents a whole new set of issues.  I’d recommend it’s investing in a good pair of noise canceling headphones and having space in the office where someone can hole up when they just have to stick their head down & jam but net net… the office just felt different.  It felt like a different company.

As real estate developers and architects plan out what their new office spaces are going to look like, they need to think about what’s going to be best for the new workforce that’s cropping off.  Gone are the days of everyone having 700 square foot offices.  You now have a generation that more so enjoys working in noisy coffee shops.  In Washington DC a city known for its lobbyists & law firms, there’s especially a shortage of these kind open-work spaces.

What’s your office layout like and how does it effect your office vibe?

The Importance of Science Fiction

On Sunday evening, my wife Lauren and I went to go see the movie The Avengers at a near by movie theater.  So many of my friends had been talking about it.  I just had to see it.   While I didn’t grow up with comic books, I definitely have enjoyed getting to know the characters with the recent flurry of movies from Marvel.

The movie was phenomenal.  You can’t help but get swept up in all the all the action and all the futuristic technology.   I wish I could get my hands on a fraction of all the Tony Stark had in his lab.

The movie reminded me of a talk that I’d heard by LeVar Burton a few weeks earlier at the MamaBear conference in Mountain View, CA.  He talked about a lot but one thing that especially resonated was the importance of science fiction to society.  It’s important for us to dream and have something to shoot for, when we’re thinking about what the future might hold

I was a HUGE fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation growing up so when I think of LeVar Burton, I think of Geordi La Forge.  I can’t imagine how surreal it must be for LeVar.  20 years ago, I’m sure people laughed at the notion of the visor that he wore on the show.   Now we have the Google Project Glass.  On the show, they had the tricorder.  Now we have the iPhone.    It’s amazing how fantasy & reality are becoming so similar.

While people may balk at what they see in The Avengers, the idea of a centralized computer that talks to you and controls all the systems in your house, a clear computer screens that you can swipe with your hands Minority Report style, or even mechanized computer suit that you wear like Iron Man, I know that these technologies are under development and aren’t that far off from being mainstream.

So… who are the dreamers?  Who are the writers that are not just paving the way for the next 5 years but for the next 50?

Instagram & Angry Birds are great but… who’s shooting for the moon?